Cognition & Reality

Monday, 1 November 2010

“In Plain Sight”

Filed under: Television — drtone @ 9:57 am

Who woulda thunk? A cop show from a Brand-X network with top-notch acting and sharp dialog? Very late, several nights ago, I tried “In Plain Sight,” a show from the USA Network about US Marshals in Albuquerque  who work for the federal witness protection program. Its star, Mary McCormack, plays the troubled, sharp-tongued Mary Shannon, a Marshal whose attitude is as big as Sangre de Cristo. With her sidekick, the all-too-cleverly-named Marshal Marshall Mann (Fredrick Weller), Shannon helps those under threat of death resettle in Albuquerque. At home, Mary must cope with her ditsy mother, Jinx, played by the the wonderful Lesley Ann Warren, and her even more ditsy sister, Brandi, played by the absurdly curvaceous Nichole Hiltz.

As befits a cheesy show on a cheesy network, “In Plain Sight” features plenty of cleavage. Many of Mary Shannon’s outfits don’t seem like they would really pass government muster. Brandi’s clothes always appear sprayed on. And Lesley Ann Warren, in her early sixties, still has plenty of pretty flesh to show off. Yes, the breasts are there, but the show does not depend on them for all its entertainment value.

The well-written dialog is snappy, often, but not always, featuring sexual innuendo. Mary’s car, a mauve Ford Probe that has seen better days. Mary flirts occasionally with an Albuquerque police detective name Robert “Bobby” Dershowitz (Todd Williams), who is Black. According to him, “It’s a long story.” Most of the funniest lines depend so much on context and on the manner in which they are delivered that to give examples is pointless. Their impact comes out of the writing and the acting.

The acting is top-notch. The show regulars, including Paul Ben-Victor as Mary and Marshall’s boss, are strong actors, with both excellent comic timing and the ability to deliver in dramatic scenes.  The “guest stars,” or whatever they’re called come from the best TV has to deliver. Wendell Pierce, of “The Wire” and “Treme,” lights up one episode in a role utterly different from his role in those other shows. Joanna Cassidy shows up, as do other pros, more familiar for their faces than for their names.

The show’s low budget is manifest, beginning with its having been shot in Albuquerque. The cast is small, with lmost all the other US Marshals we see being extras. The emphasis on saving money means that we’re spared car chases, and other fairly expensive action sequences. Although the exteriors are fun, they are relatively rare. “In Plain Sight” is much better written than any low-budget cop show has a right to be. The play’s the thing, not the pyrotechnics.

Although much of its drama and  comedy derive from the dysfunction in Mary’s family, “In Plain Sight” does not dwell on social issues the way many cop shows do. Like the central character, the show is not in the business of showing how sensitive it is. Instead, it’s a romp, leavened by some well-written dramatic passages.

Stream “In Plain Sight” on Netflix.

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